Scioscia mended, motivated the Angels

Editor’s note: This column by Yahoo! Sports national columnist Tim Brown made the case Sept. 14 that Mike Scioscia deserved to be American League Manager of the Year. Scioscia was honored Nov. 18.

There is a locker still cluttered, left by a young man in a hurry to celebrate the beginning of all he ever dreamed of, and exactly what he worked for.

There is a sadness still drumming its fingers, waiting for time to pass in Mike Scioscia’s clubhouse.

The jersey is not the only part of Nick Adenhart(notes) that travels with the Angels since that horrifying night, since the morning Angels awoke to irreconcilable grief.

Resolve goes with them too. It had to.

Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here, on the verge of their fifth American League West title in six seasons, the one that Adenhart was going to help pitch them to, but couldn’t.

Photo Angels manager Mike Scioscia is in the first year of a 10-year contract extension.
(Getty Images)

It’s been a wandering, fractured journey. The Angels never did get their pitching staff completely together, not with 14 different starters and a bullpen thinned by injury, youth and imprecision. They scored runs because they wouldn’t have won any other way, and they caught the ball for big outs because life is hectic when the league is batting .273 against you and reaching base more than a third of the time.

And yet Scioscia made do, which is why, in a league where Texas’ Ron Washington and New York’s Joe Girardi and Seattle’s Don Wakamatsu drew more than what was expected from their rosters, Scioscia handled more, dealt with more, asked for more and delivered more than any of them.

The Angels were supposed to win the West.

And after the death of Adenhart three days into the season, they did.

The Angels were supposed to bludgeon a young and/or rebuilding division with a big payroll and talent.

They won with big hearts and resiliency.

They won’t have a Cy Young Award candidate. Or an MVP. Even a Rookie of the Year.

Of their three All-Stars, one (Torii Hunter(notes)) missed a month-and-a-half of summer because of injury, another (Brian Fuentes(notes)) is having trouble holding onto the closer’s role, and the third (Chone Figgins(notes)) was added so late he arrived in St. Louis barely in time for the introductions.

They’re just now threading John Lackey(notes) back into the top of their rotation, and wondering if Ervin Santana(notes) will answer the postseason call, and long ago wrote off Kelvim Escobar(notes). Scot Shields(notes) is recovering from knee surgery, and has been for months. Vladimir Guerrero(notes), now somewhere in his mid-30s, is swinging at more pitches than ever and driving in fewer runs than ever.

So, the Angels leaned on Figgins. They stood Kendry Morales(notes) in Mark Teixeira’s(notes) place. They watched Erick Aybar(notes) grow up. They hoped Bobby Abreu(notes) had a little something left. They demoted Howie Kendrick(notes), then brought him back. They gave the ball to Jered Weaver(notes), and he saved them. They took on Scott Kazmir(notes), but only after five months of options had been exhausted.

Going on 10 years ago, Scioscia took this job down the road from the Dodgers. And this year, in the first season of a 10-year contract extension, his work rivals that of the 2002 masterpiece, in which his who-are-those-guys Angels beat the Yankees, Twins and Giants for the organization’s first and only championship.

From a season that had no choice but to grow from tragedy, from memorial services and a funeral and daily walks past the makeshift shrine that sprouted on the concrete at their ballpark’s entrance, the Angels simply endured, because Scioscia asked them to. And after a decade of developing and tending to an organizational philosophy designed to sustain under nearly all conditions, Scioscia had it hold up under the one he’d never planned for.

Heading into the final 20 games of the season, only the Yankees had won more games. Only the Yankees scored more runs.

No one, however, had seen more than the Angels had. No one would want to.

Other Manager of the Year candidates:

Ron Washington, Rangers: Somebody finally dragged the Rangers through a summer in their new ballpark. Somebody finally got their pitchers to believe in themselves as much in August as they had in May. While it surely has helped to have Nolan Ryan around, Washington survived a couple tough seasons to justify general manager Jon Daniels’ belief in him and prove he does indeed have a knack for the job.

Joe Girardi, Yankees: There should be a special award just for the New York guys, just for surviving. Nobody gets a trophy for leading $200 million worth of ballplayers to a division title or even the best record in baseball, because, damn, who couldn’t do that? And while there did come a time when his roster got healthy and focused and began to run itself, Girardi had some serious massaging to do first and showed he was pretty good at it.

Don Wakamatsu, Mariners: The M’s were about as dysfunctional as it gets a year ago and figured to be a handful for the next manager, no matter who stood in, but especially for a first-year guy. That the Mariners got their dignity back, that they should win at least 20 more games than they did last season, and that they appear to be heading in a good direction reflects well on Wakamatsu and the first-year GM, Jack Zduriencik.

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Sep 14, 2009